First Cut at Features of a Solution

Here’s a first cut at the features that I think any solution to the robots/AI unemployment crisis needs to include:

  1. Focuses Not on Jobs For All But on Income and Security For All
  2. Focuses Not Just on Individuals but on Communities
  3. Builds Grassroots Power
  4. Still Worth Doing Even If Crisis Happens Much Later
  5. Wherever Possible, Promotes Experimenting & Testing Out Ideas

In upcoming posts, I’ll flesh out these five features — and in doing so, hopefully, tighten up the wording.

Talking Points: a Shitty First Draft

Finally, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what Makers All stands for. But I can’t seem to explain it in less than 20 to 30 minutes. So, here’s shitty first draft of my talking points.

Sometime between 2025 and 2040, many experts believe that 30-70% of all jobs will be eliminated by robots/AI. How does our society survive this threat?

Makers All argues that we can not only survive but thrive if we follow 3 strategies:

1) Make a Floor

Give everyone a Universal Basic Income so that no one starves, everyone benefits from the bounty of wealth created by this new economy, and everyone has room to take more risks – to start a small business/co-op, to pursue their dreams.

Most discussions of the robots/AI unemployment threat stop here. But it isn’t enough. A basic income would leave millions still scraping to get by on a fraction of their old income without any real hope for a better financial future for themselves or their children. And in an economy where more and more of the wealth and power would be accumulated at the top, it isn’t politically sustainable. To solve this crisis, we need 2 more strategies:

2) Make Creativity Work

A.K.A. Spotify/YouTube Done Right
In an economy increasingly dominated by robotics/AI, 3-D printing, wearables, etc. the biggest value doesn’t come from what we physically own but from intellectual property and ideas – the ideas behind a robot’s sensor, the code that makes it run, the recipe the robot can cook, the diagram a 3-D printer uses to print something. If these creative works are freely/cheaply available, everybody benefits – but then if few who create them can make a living. So what we need to do is create a system where

  • Everyone has a shot at earning all or some of their income when they add creative works that plenty of people find useful – in short, Spotify/YouTube done right.
  • From Harlem to Harlan County, we need to ensure that every community learns how to use this new technology, both so that people in their community can benefit from their creativity and so that they understand enough of how the nuts and bolts of this new economy work so they can have a real voice in setting the rules that determine who benefits from this new wealth

If instead of writing off or abandoning more and more communities, we create a people-powered economy where everyone from every community can participate and share in the benefits, we will create an economy that is not only more just but also create an unprecedented amount of wealth.

3) Make Community Work

Make Creativity Work will give many more chance to participate in this new economy, but for many people both it and Universal Basic Income still won’t be enough to guarantee that everyone who is willing and able to work hard to have a solid middle class life. Make Creativity Work is where people make money because we vote for work we like/use; with Make Community Work we get to vote for income for what the work we value that doesn’t get captured by it.

  • Make Community Work offer people a chance to supplement their income by taking care of their children or the elderly, by volunteering (e.g., Volunteer Bucks), by participating in making their community more resilient in a world wracked by climate change, etc. how much of a mix of additional income for specific projects vs., say, volunteering would depend on what mix we decide to support when we deliberate and vote.
  • To really Make Community Work, we would want to create a Continuum of participation, from locally-oriented Voter Kickstarters/tactical urbanism to regional Participatory Budgeting (e.g.,a participatory budgeting-style DARPA) to full-blown Representative democracy. The goal would be to create lots of room for folks in the communities to learn through experimenting and innovating at a smaller scale while still offering spaces for the choices that we can only make when we choose together
  • As the robots/AI unemployment crisis begins to really take off, it won’t hit every community equally – wiping out most truck drivers will create some problems in big cities but will decimate small rural towns. So we will need something like a Marshall Plan to both help communities that are flattened by new economic crises and help communities that have never recovered from previous ones.

Okay, a bit of a hot mess, but a decent place to start! Rather than trying to refine them now, I’m going to step back and work on clarifying what is a problem I think we need to solve. Not only will clarifying the problem help me clean up the talking points, but there’s also a really good chance that my answer isn’t ultimately the right one. And right now I think the most important thing we can do is to get folks thinking & talking beyond the very narrow confines of Universal Basic Income, so getting the question(s) right is way more important than getting the right answer.